Simple Ways To Prolong Your Vehicle Suspension System’s Life
Does My Suspension System Need Servicing?
From supporting the weight of the vehicle to allowing safe emergency manoeuvres and controlling the handling characteristics, the suspension system plays many important roles in the modern automobile. We often overlook the maintenance of the suspension and steering components which leads to major issues with vehicle stability and control and ultimately requires expensive repairs. Being such an integral part of the vehicle, the suspension system deserves some TLC now and then to ensure it lasts as long as possible and in the best condition possible. But what are the maintenance requirements of the modern suspension system? This article focuses on this answer and gives you the things you should do to maintain your vehicle’s suspension system in the best possible way for as long as possible.
What Suspension Components Need Servicing?
Modern vehicles have complicated suspension systems. Unlike the suspension system from back in the day, where a shock and spring combination was simply bolted on and did most of the work, the modern system comprises many different components like the control arms, shocks, struts, springs, mounts, joints and links and each of which serves a specific purpose and contributes to the overall performance of the system. For maintaining the system you need to look at individual components and service them separately.
All of these components undergo stresses and failures in varied ways and therefore need different sorts of attention. Some last longer than others so inspecting them for faults is enough, while other parts need to be serviced regularly for maximum lifespan. Here are the suspension and steering components that really need some TLC:
Watch Your Tires
The tires on your vehicle don’t just allow the vehicle to move, but also contribute to the suspension system by absorbing minor bumps and road disturbances, so any issues with the suspension will directly affect the tires. Maintain your tires at the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure. Check the tires for uneven or abnormal tire tread wear. Uneven tire wear can indicate a number of things - under or overinflated tires, unaligned wheels or an issue with the suspension components. A vehicle usually goes out of alignment due to wear and tear of various components, or if one or more parts like ball joints, wheel bearings, springs, shocks, etc. fail. If you notice your tires are wearing unevenly then have the vehicle inspected by your mechanic immediately. You need to align your wheels every three years or so or about 50,000 km. if you drive in bad road conditions with many potholes or on rough terrain then alignment may be necessary every 30,000 km or earlier. Whenever you carry out wheel alignment, make sure to check all suspension system parts for wear and failure.
Pay Attention To Rubber Bits
Most of the suspension components are hardwearing metal components, but within these metal components are a large number of rubber parts. Most vehicles come factory equipped with rubber boots, bushings and seals which have a limited lifespan. Rubber is prone to crack and tear with prolonged use and exposure to environmental and road hazards. If these rubber parts fail you can expect a lot of trouble and consequent repairs in the suspension system. See the rubber seals and boots prevent contaminants and moisture from entering intricate parts like the CV joint, steering rack, bearings, etc., where it can do a lot of damage. Worn rubber bushings can cause metal-to-metal contact which will eventually erode the material and cause failure of the part.
To prevent this from happening, there is a simple and easy fix - use some rubber reseal or protectant liquid to shield the rubber from exposure and prolong its life.
- Fill a spray bottle with enough liquid for all rubber components on all four wheels.
- Now spray down the rubber bits like the boots found on CV joints, shocks and struts, various ball joints, tie rods, sway bar links and steering rack bellows.
- Also, apply it to the bushings found on the control arms, sway bars and links.
Do this at every oil change to ensure all the rubber parts stay intact for as long as possible. When they do fail, replace them immediately to ensure the damage is minimal.
Top-Up Power Steering Fluid
Check the fluid on your hydraulic power steering system regularly like at every oil change. The power steering fluid reservoir has max and min indicator marks for the fluid level.
- If the fluid drops below the min level, then top off the fluid till it reaches above the minimum level mark.
- Look at the colour of the fluid. If your vehicle came with red fluid and if the fluid has turned black or brown, then it’s time for fluid replacement.
- For those that came with clear fluid, it is easier to see any dirt in the liquid.
Always replace your power steering fluid if you have driven more than 100,000 km and especially if the fluid has turned dark. You don’t want dirty fluid to cost you a small fortune in repairs.
Rust Is The Enemy
Salt and moisture can create a mixture that is the perfect nurturing grounds for rust and corrosion. Prolonged exposure to salt can completely rot away metal components in the vehicle’s undercarriage and also damage the rubber and plastic bits. Salt can be found in coastal regions or areas close to the shore or in cold places where the roads are regularly salted - which is common to most of Canada, especially up north. So if you drive on salted roads then you need to clean the undercarriage regularly to remove the salt.
- Use a strong jet of water to clear all the debris and salt stuck under the vehicle.
- Hose down the wheel well and remove all jammed salt deposits on the vehicle.
- For stubborn areas, you can use equal parts water to vinegar to create a stronger cleaning solution for salt.
Do this every two weeks during winter or in areas where the vehicle is exposed to salty conditions.
Grease Those Joints
Most modern vehicles are designed to last a long time while undergoing little maintenance. To that extent, many vehicles come equipped with maintenance-free ball joints which do not need to be greased regularly and last a long time. This is common to most modern cars, but if you have installed an aftermarket ball joint or have an older or a heavy-duty vehicle, then there is a high chance that you have greaseable ball joints. Greasable ball joints can last much longer given that they are serviced regularly. Just attach a grease gun and add grease till the boot slightly swells up. Do not add too much grease or you can risk rupturing the boot which is bad and will require you to replace the joint completely. Ball joints can be found on the lower and upper control arms as well as the tie rod ends and even sway bar links.
Things To Check When Servicing Suspension System
This section serves as a summary of what you need to do along with a few more checks that you need to perform:
- Test Drive: The first step for any suspension system inspection is to carry out a test drive. Go over bumps, accelerate and brake quickly and notice any noises, vibrations, steering pulling or any other such issues. The issue may be subtle or extremely pronounced. A test drive can give you a good starting point of what’s wrong and where.
- Shock Absorbers: Check the shocks or struts for leaks. If you see a large amount of fluid on the shock housing, it can mean the seal inside the shock is torn, causing the leak. The only way to fix this is to get replacement shock absorbers. Refer to this guide to get the right shock absorbers for your car. Note that a thin layer of liquid on the shock housing is natural and is there because of the piston passing over the surface.
- Wheel Bearings: To check the bearings you will need to jack up the vehicle to suspend the wheels off the ground. Now rock the tire back and forth. If you see play in the movement then it is likely the wheel bearing has failed. Another way you can check this is by rotating the tires. Worn bearings will produce a grinding noise indicating faulty bearings. Read more about wheel bearings and a guide to buying them here. Refer to this article to diagnose and replace bad wheel bearings.
- Ball Joints: Follow a similar procedure as the wheel bearings and you can notice squeaking noise as you rock the tire back and forth. Noise from the upper end can mean a bad upper joint and same for lower ball joints. To check the tie rod and sway bar ball joint, you can remove it from the knuckle and sway bar link and check the joint for play. A visual inspection can also tell a lot about their condition. Replace bad ball joints immediately as they can cause a host of other problems. Here’s a guide for buying the right ball joints for your ride.
- Tires: Check tire tread depth and air pressure regularly. Maintain the air pressure to manufacturer-recommended settings. Replace tires as they reach 3 mm tread depth as anything below that compromises safety significantly. Inspect the tire wear pattern - it can indicate issues with your suspension system.
- Wheel Alignment: Carry out wheel alignment when you change tires or every 30,000 to 50,000 km depending on your driving conditions.
- Rotate Your Wheels: Carry out wheel rotation if your vehicle manufacturer suggests it. The interval can vary between vehicles and ranges within 10,000 to 15,000 km.
- Power Steering: Check the power steering fluid every oil change and make sure to top it off if low. Change the fluid after about 100,000 km or if the fluid is very dirty or turns dark.
- Clean The Vehicle: Inspect the various suspension and steering components for rust and corrosion and regularly clean the undercarriage (every two weeks in coastal regions or areas with road salts) to remove salt and other contaminants.
The suspension system is a large interdependent set of components and if one part fails, it will more than likely wear out other parts as well. This will cause the issue and the repair bill to increase. The best way to avoid this is by carrying out regular inspection of the entire system and replacing any worn parts.